Tag Archives: pine nuts

Pesto #3: Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto

Spinach and pine nut pesto is almost the same as the basil pesto. It looks the same and tastes just as good. Basil can be expensive especially if you’re using a large quantity of it. But with the wonderful bags of washed, pretrimmed spinach making a spinach pesto is a snap. Using the bags saves so much time as well, you don’t have to keep cleaning it over and over to get all the dirt out of it. And there are sales almost all the time for the bags of spinach. Many of them are buy 1 get 1 free! So this is a more economical way to make a great pesto! This pesto is great with grilled chicken, pasta, anything!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups (tightly packed) baby spinach leaves (about 2 ounces)

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

1-2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (from about 1 lemon)

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from about ½ lemon)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

½ teaspoon salt, more to taste

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste


DIRECTIONS:

1. In a food processor, combine the spinach, pine nuts, lemon zest, and lemon juice. With the machine running, gradually add the oil, blending until it is creamy.

2. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl. Stir in the cheese, salt and pepper. Add more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes 1 cup. The pesto can be made 2 days ahead of time.

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Pesto #1: Basil Pesto

Basil pesto is the most basic and traditional pesto. It is what most people think of when you mention pesto. The basil-based pesto was invented in Genoa, Italy. It is also sometimes called a Genovese sauce. It should be a beautiful bright green and the aroma is almost intoxicating. Just remember when adding the oil, add it slowly. This is so that the sauce is fully emulsified, meaning all the ingredients blend together in a thick, uniform consistency. There are also many types of basil out there in the markets today so be adventurous and try a few of them for their different flavors! And remember you will be using quite a bit in the recipe so if it’s on sale all the better!

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves

¼ cup toasted pine nuts (pignoli)*

1-2 cloves garlic

½ teaspoon salt, plus a little more to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a little more to taste

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese


DIRECTIONS:

1. In a food processor or blender, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon of the black pepper until finely chopped.

2. With the processor or blender still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with more salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate.

Makes about 1 cup. The pesto can be made up to 2 days ahead.

*To toast pine nuts for pesto, bake them on a cookie sheet at 400ºF for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just keep an eye on them because they can burn very quickly!

**TIP** If using the pesto as a pasta sauce it must be the right consistency. So when your pasta is just about ready you can add a little bit of the pasta cooking liquid to the pest to get it a little thinner so it will coat the pasta. Just be careful you don’t add too much and make it a pesto soup!

Italian Sauces (Part 1)

When most people think of Italian sauces they usually think of the tomato sauce, marinara sauce, alfredo sauce and probably white clam sauce. But there are so many more sauces out there  that are all wonderful in their own way. Growing up in my house my mother used to serve us a quick spaghetti meal we called Aiole. It was a basic olive oil and garlic sauce. Simple and fast and it was delicious. I am going to go through most of the basic sauces out there and hopefully put in some pictures so you know what they look like. I will have the second half of them next week so keep an eye open for them!

ALFREDO: Alfredo sauce is rich with heavy cream, butter, and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. It is best known when used with fettuccine. Love the sauce, hate the fat and calories! A luxury I must have every so often. You don’t have to limit it to fettuccine either, use it on any kind of pasta you want. Usually the heavier pastas do best. Throw some chicken or shrimp in there as well and it gets even better!

Fettuccine Alfredo

AGLIO E OLIO: This is a traditional Italian sauce (it’s what we called Aiole) that can be made on a budget. This is probably why we had it so often. It is said to have originated in the isolated region of Abruzzo but it is popular everywhere in Italy. It is usually served with spaghetti (that’s how we had it) and the sauce is made by lightly sautéing minced or pressed garlic in olive oil, sometimes adding dried red pepper flakes. You can also add finely chopped fresh parsley and parmesan cheese.

Aglio e Olio

ARRABBIATA: Arrabbiata is Italian for “angry”. This is a zesty tomato based sauce that gets its heat from chili peppers. It is basically a Roman sauce of garlic, tomatoes, and red chili peppers cooked in olive oil. Basil is used sometimes though most chefs in Italy don’t use it. This dish is usually served with pasta and chopped fresh parsley sprinkled on top.

Spaghetti Arrabbiata

BOLOGNESE: Bolognese sauce is a robust meat sauce also known as ragù (no not the jar sauce!). It is a hearty sauce with ground beef or pork, pancetta, tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots and celery. The sauce is sometimes enhanced by adding a little bit of wine, cream and seasoning. This sauce originated in Bologna, Italy where the natives traditionally serve it with freshly made tagliatelle and their traditionally green lasagna. Spaghetti alla Bolognese is a form that is popular outside of Italy which consists of a meat sauce served on a bed of spaghetti with a good sprinkling of grated Parmigiano cheese. What is really funny about this version is that it never really existed in Bologna, where the sauce is always served with tagliatelle or lasagna (egg pastas). Spaghetti is a durum wheat pasta from Naples.

Spaghetti Bolognese

CARBONARA: Carbonara is another popular sauce that is usually made with eggs, cream, Parmesan cheese and bits of bacon. Many times this sauce also has green peas in it as well. Usually served with spaghetti it is also used on fettuccine, rigatoni or bucatini. Recipes vary but all agree that cheese, eggs, cured fatty pork (pancetta) and black pepper are basic. Origins of this dish are obscure and it has many legends about it. It was created in the middle of the 20th century so it’s not that old as far as sauces go.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

CLAM SAUCE: The most popular clam sauce is the white version. Usually served with linguine this popular sauce has minced clams, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and parsley. There is also a thin tomato sauce with minced clams. You don’t usually see this recipe on menus much. Some versions use whole clams and hot pepper flakes.

Linguine with Clam Sauce

GENOVESE/PESTO: I don’t think I’ve ever really heard of a Genovese sauce before. Most of us know this sauce as Pesto. The name means it originates from Genoa (imagine that!), which is a coastal city in NW Italy. Genovese/Pesto sauce is an uncooked sauce traditionally made of fresh basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. It didn’t really become popular in North America until the 1980s and 1990s.

Fettuccine with Pesto Sauce

GREMOLATA: Ok here is another sauce I never heard of anywhere. It is more of a chopped herb condiment. It’s typically made of garlic, parsley, and lemon zest. Traditionally it’s used as an accompaniment to the Italian classic Osso Buco (braised veal shank). The citrus element in this actually makes it a great addition to seafood dishes as well!

Gremolata Sauce

MARINARA: This is the classic Italian tomato sauce. It’s seasoned with onions, garlic and oregano, and basil. It’s a favorite on pasta, pizza and meats. This is another sauce that has many variations. Some of them even call for adding capers, olives and spices. Italians refer to marinara only in association with other recipes. Spaghetti alla marinara literally translates to mariner’s spaghetti. However, tomato sauce is called salsa al pomodoro which includes marinara sauce as well as other tomato-based sauce. Marinara sauce was invented by cooks aboard Neapolitan ships in the mid-1500s after the Spaniards introduced the tomato (a New World vegetable) to Europe! This is a very easy sauce to make and it resists spoiling due to the high acid content of the tomatoes. This is why it was ideal for lengthy sea voyages hundreds of years before we had refrigeration! This sauce is great on so many pastas as well as chicken, pork, veal, fish, you name it!

Ravioli Marinara

MORE SAUCES NEXT SUNDAY!!

The Italian Kitchen (Part 2)

Today’s  post on The Italian Kitchen is going to be a glossary of some basic Italian kitchen ingredients. Most of them will be familiar to everyone but this will give a little information about each of them.

Arborio Rice: Risotto is usually made with this Italian rice, though other rice can be used. Risotto is Arborio rice that is browned first in margarine, butter, or oil, then cooked in broth. The finished rice has a creamy consistency and a tender, but slightly firm, texture.

Artichokes: You should look for firm, compact globes that are heavy for their size. They should yield slightly to pressure and have large, tightly closed leaves. Sometimes you’ll see leaf edges that are darkened. This is because the plant got too cold but it does not affect the quality. To store, keep fresh artichokes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. To prepare an artichoke, cut off the bottom stem so it sits flat. Cut off about 1 inch from the top. Remove loose outer leaves. With a pair of kitchen shears, snip ½ inch from tips of leaves. Brush cut surfaces with lemon juice to prevent browning.

Balsamic Vinegar: This sweet, dark brown vinegar is made from the boiled-down juice of a white grape. According to Italian law, balsamic vinegar labeled as “aceto balsamico tradizionale” cannot contain any wine vinegar and must be aged at least 12 years. These vinegars can sell from $40-$350 per 4 ounces!! Less expensive balsamics blend wine vinegar with the grape juice. This is what most of us buy at the supermarket. If you can afford the expensive stuff go ahead and splurge.

Basil: My favorite Italian herb by a long shot! Love how this smells! The aroma and flavor of this herb range from peppery and robust to sweet and spicy. It’s leaves can be various shades of green or purple. The leaves can be used in dried or fresh form. The fresh form is amazing but always keep the dried on hand!

Garlic: The ultimate Italian ingredient! As I’ve said before, you can never have too much garlic! The plant  of this strong-scented, pungent bulb is related to the onion. Besides fresh garlic bulbs, you can also use dried. Some people use jarred minced garlic. I don’t recommend this. Garlic comes in the form of garlic powder, garlic salt, and garlic paste. Leave the bulbs whole, once you separate them they tend to dry out. Garlic should be kept in a cool, dry, dark place and used within 6 months. I planted garlic cloves once and they really grew! Pretty cool!

Italian Parsley: Italian parsley has flat, dark leaves and a milder flavor than the more familiar curly leaf parsley.

Mushrooms: Porcini– the most prized wild mushrooms in Italy, have large, meaty, slightly rounded caps that may be white or reddish-brown. The stems are fleshy and wider at the bottom. Another mushroom in Italy is the Crimini/Portobello (Italian brown or Roman), which has the same shape as a regular button mushroom but is light tan to dark brown with a deeper, earthier flavor. When the mushrooms are small they are Crimini. Once the Crimini is fully matured it is a Portobello. To clean, brush mushrooms with a soft brush or damp paper towel. Store them in a paper bag until ready to use. Serve within a couple of days. If you can’t find the fresh version of what you want, look for the dried form. You can add fresh or rehydrated mushrooms to soups, sauces, salads, appetizers, pasta dishes, and entrees.

Olive Oil: No Italian kitchen is complete without a bottle of olive oil. I remember my mother always had one of those gallon type cans in the kitchen when we were growing up. Too expensive now to buy that huge can! The quality of olive oil is classified by the level of acidity, taste, and aroma. Olive oils higher in acidity can be rectified or treated with chemicals to lower the acidity, but are called refined, not virgin.  Olive oil has the same amount of calories that other oils contain–120 calories per tablespoon. But olive oil is highly unsaturated and has been suggested as a healthier alternative to more saturated fat or oils. Additionally, olive oil is a highly flavored oil, so you can use much less than oils with lighter flavors.

Types of Olive Oil

Extra-virgin olive oil is the best grade of olive oil; it meets Italy’s highest standards for rich and fruity olive taste with very lowe acidity (less than 1%)

Virgin olive oil has an acidity between 1 and 3 percent and a lighter taste and aroma. It is considered to be slightly inferior in quality to extra-virgin olive oil.

Pure olive oil is filtered twice after a single cold-pressing to lighten the oil’s color and aroma and lessen the acidity. It has a delicate flavor and a low acidity.

Cold-pressed olive oil is obtained by pressing the fruit. No heat or solvents are used, therefore it is called “cold-pressed.”

Extra-light olive oil refers only to the oil’s flavor, not to the calories it contains compared to the other olive oils.

Olives: Italians prefer to use ripe olives rather than the unripe green variety. Although ripe olives in America are usually black, the color of Italian ripe olives can vary from purplish red and brown to jet-black. They are packed in oil or brine, which may be flavored with herbs or citrus pee. Taste olives before serving. If they’re too salty, rinse them under cold running water. They can become bitter if overcooked, so allow them just enough time to heat through when adding to a cooked dish.

Pancetta (pan-CHEH-tuh): Pancetta is the Italian version of bacon. It’s made from the belly or pancia of a hog. Pancetta has deep pink stripes of flesh similar to bacon. Pancetta is seasoned with pepper and other spices, and is cured with salt, but it’s not smoked. It comes in a sausage-like roll or flat and is used to flavor sauces, vegetables, or meats.

Pesto (PES-toh): I love pesto. It’s so easy to make yourself too. Much better than those jarred ones in the store. It’s a pasty sauce of olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, and Parmesan cheese. It is usually served with pasta.

Pignoli Nuts (Pine Nuts): This is a unique and tasty little “nut”. They can be really expensive too but I’ve found it at a few places that won’t break the bank. The pignoli is a small seed from one of the several pine tree varieties. The pine nut, which has a sweet, faint pine flavor, is commonly known as pignoli or pinon. The small, creamy white nut can be slender and pellet-shaped or more triangular. Pine nuts turn rancid quickly, so keep them in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two months or freeze them for up to six months.

Polenta (poh-LEN-tuh): This is an Italian-style cornmeal mush (as I used to call it as a kid). It’s made by boiling a mixture of cornmeal or farina and water. Polenta usually is served with tomato sauce as a side dish, or it can be served without sauce as a bread substitute. It’s eaten as a thick porridge or can be molded, sliced, fried, or boiled.

Prosciutto (proh-SHOO-toh): I love prosciutto. Maybe it’s the salty flavor. (I am the Salt Monster after all, so my husband says!) Like ham, it’s from the hog’s leg. Salt curing draws out the moisture, a process called prosciugare in Italian. But unlike ham, the cured pork is air-dried, not smoked. (Probably another reason I like it so much). The result is a somewhat sweetly spiced, rose-colored meat that has a slight sheen. Parma ham is the authentic prosciutto of Italy. They are designated as prosciutto cotto (cooked) or prosciutto crudo (raw). The raw is cured, however, so it’s ready to eat. Use small amounts in pasta, sauces, and meat dishes. Add it to cooked dishes at the last-minute so it doesn’t get too tough. I love it around melon. Like most Italian weddings, prosciutto is served wrapped around a slice of cantaloupe or honeydew melon. Delicious!

Risotto (ree-ZHOT-toh): This rice dish consists of broth-cooked rice, butter, cheese and other bits of meat and/or vegetables. Risotto Milanese (from Milan) are always also flavored with a little saffron. I love risotto also. But it’s a treat for me because it’s so high in calories.

Tomatoes: Italian cooks mainly use two kinds of tomatoes. The long plum or Roma tomatoes are usually used for cooking because they have fewer seeds, firmer flesh and thicker juice. I use them is salsa also. The round eating tomatoes are best in salads, appetizers, or anywhere fresh tomatoes are needed. To ripen, store firm tomatoes at room temperature in a bowl or even in a brown paper bag. DO NOT PUT TOMATOES IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!!! This takes away most of the flavor and removes the helpful antioxidants. I only refrigerate when I cut them and have some left over. Though this doesn’t happen often!

    Pignoli Cookies (Biscotti di Pinoli)

    Of all the Italian cookies this is by far one of my favorites. It is my Dad’s favorite too. Anybody who’s bought these at the Italian bakery knows how expensive they can be!  But the best thing is that you can make them yourself for a fraction of the cost and it’s easy! The most expensive ingredient is of course, pignoli nuts. But keep an eye open when you’re in the grocery store, Walmart, warehouse club of choice, even the dollar stores! You can usually find a package of pignoli nuts for a reasonable price. I always buy as much as I can when I find them on sale too, because you can store them in the freezer or refrigerator to keep them fresh. Plus they’re always good in salads or with other dishes as well! These cookies are so moist and yummy you can’t eat just one!

    INGREDIENTS:

    ½ cup sugar

    ½ cup confectioners’ sugar

    ¼ cup all-purpose flour

    1/8 cup teaspoon salt

    1 8-ounce can/tube almond paste

    2 egg whites, slightly beaten

    2 cups pignoli nuts (Pine nuts)

    Confectioners’ sugar


    DIRECTIONS:

    1. Preheat oven to 300ºF. Lightly grease 2 large cookie sheets. Sift sugars with flour and salt, set aside.

    2. In medium bowl, break up almond paste with wooden spoon. Add egg whites and beat until well-blended and fairly smooth. Stir in flour mixture until well blended.

    3. Take a spoonful of the dough and dip it into a bowl of pine nuts. Slide the dough onto the prepared cookie sheet 2 inches apart.

    4. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden. Remove cookies to rack to cool. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

    Makes about 30 tasty and delicious cookies. Can be stored in an airtight container or in the freezer up to a month. (Like there would be any left over!!)

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